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6 November, 2023

How I Got Into Optometry School

Getting admission into optometry school is difficult. However, you can set yourself up for success. In this article, I will be sharing my personal timeline of applying to and getting admitted into optometry school.
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Becoming an optometrist or Doctor of Optometry, is a journey that requires hard work, commitment, and perseverance. Before doing so, you must apply for, be admitted into, and complete optometry school. Optometry school programs are generally 4 years long, following a Bachelor’s degree or at least 3 years of undergraduate studies. There are 25 schools in North America (23 in the United States and 2 in Canada). Because there are so many steps and requirements to being accepted into an optometry program, starting the application process can be a daunting task. If you are planning to pursue optometry, it would be good to know what you are getting yourself into before committing to the process. The same idea applies, even if you are considering applying for other professional healthcare programs (medicine, dentistry, veterinary, etc.). In this article, I will be discussing my personal undergraduate degree timeline and path to getting into optometry school.

1️⃣ First Year of Undergrad (Sept 2017 – Apr 2018)

In September 2017, I started my undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada. At this point, I had thought about pursuing optometry, along with other fields in healthcare, but was not entirely ready to commit to the process. To gain more insight, I joined the UBC Pre-Optometry Club in hopes of meeting other people in the same boat as me and in search of opportunities to find out if the field was for me. In the faculty of science at UBC, we do not declare our major until second year, so I was enrolled in general introductory science courses in my first year. These courses included introductory Chemistry, Biology and Physics courses with corresponding labs, as well as calculus and English. With the heavy first-year course load in addition to the overwhelming transition into university, my main focus was to do well in school and keep my options open. By the end of my first year, I had found a part-time job at an optometry clinic as an optometry assistant after being encouraged by my peers to get some experience in the field and figure out if I wanted to commit to pursuing optometry.

In the summer after my first year, I enrolled in summer courses to get a head start on my second year and get some of the harder courses out of the way. For instance, I took a second-year Organic Chemistry course that summer because it is notorious for being more challenging and I wanted to have the summer to focus on doing well. At the same time, I continued working once a week at the optometry clinic. I was able to ask questions, learn about the different pre-testing machines and techniques used on patients, gain insight into how optometry clinics run, and occasionally shadow doctors in the exam room. My experience at the clinic really helped me reflect on whether or not I could see myself being an optometrist in the future and figure out if optometry was the right path for me. If you are trying to figure out if optometry is right for you, check out this article.

2️⃣ Second Year of Undergrad (Sept 2018 – Apr 2019) 

In September 2018, I started my second year at UBC. At this point, I was pretty sure about optometry and I had declared my major in Biology. I chose Biology because it interested me – at the same time, despite the list of required first and second-year courses for a Bachelor’s degree in Biology, the course requirements for the third and fourth years of the degree were much more flexible. I thought this would allow me to not only fulfill the pre-requisite courses for optometry programs but also pick a more diverse set of courses that piqued my interest while fulfilling the graduation requirements for my bachelor’s degree. Up to this point, I had done some research on pre-requisite courses for various optometry programs. Specifically, I focused on the optometry program at the University of Waterloo, as it is the only English-speaking optometry school in Canada. Therefore, I spent my second year taking required courses for my biology degree while trying to see if I could select courses that would fulfill the Waterloo optometry pre-requisite course list at the same time. My second year was equally, if not more, academically challenging compared to my first year, so I continued to focus on doing well in school while working at the optometry clinic once a week.

In January 2019, I started shadowing for half a day at another optometry clinic. I was still working once a week at the first clinic, but I wanted to gain more exposure to the clinical side of optometry. Through this opportunity, I was able to meet more doctors and like-minded students, which further reinforced my reasons for pursuing optometry. Around February 2019, I started looking into the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), which is a standardized test required for admission into optometry school. Students usually apply for optometry school in the summer after their second or third year to be admitted right after their third or fourth year. However, OAT scores expire two years after taking the exam, so I was not sure yet how early I wanted to take the OAT and apply for optometry programs. Tentatively, I decided to register for the OAT with a plan to start studying in May 2019 after my second year and take the exam sometime that summer. If you would like more information on the OAT, feel free to check out our other articles on: How to Study for the OAT, What to Expect on OAT Exam Day, Strategizing Your OAT Test Date, How Is the OAT Scored, What Is a Good OAT Score, When to Reschedule Your OAT, and Retaking the OAT.

When May 2019 rolled around, I began studying for the OAT. This was when I realized how much I had signed up for and that I was not ready to start applying to optometry schools that summer. Instead, I focused on studying for the OAT and took the exam in mid-August. I also reasoned that if I was going to complete three years of undergraduate studies, I might as well study for another year to obtain my bachelor’s degree.

3️⃣ Third Year of Undergrad (Sept 2019 – Apr 2020)

In September 2019, I started my third year at UBC. At this point, I had finished most of the prerequisite courses for the University of Waterloo. I still had a bunch of required courses for my bachelor’s degree, so I spent this school year working on completing them. Outside of class, I continued my involvement in school clubs, kept working and volunteering at the two optometry clinics, and also worked as a peer tutor for an introductory biochemistry class. I also did not want to risk only applying to one school, so I started doing research on schools in the US. Some common US optometry schools that Canadians apply to are Pacific University College of Optometry (PUCO), New England College of Optometry (NECO), and Illinois College of Optometry (ICO). Many pre-optometry students will apply for US optometry schools, but the application is quite different from the Canadian system and there are more factors to consider – check out our article on Applying to US Schools as a Canadian Student for more information. I also considered different factors and optometry school statistics when choosing which US optometry schools to apply to. Eventually, I decided to apply to Pacific University College of Optometry (PUCO), Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO), and Arizona College of Optometry (AZCOPT).

In July 2020, after my third year, I started my applications to Waterloo and schools in the US. The Waterloo application opens in July and closes in October, and all applicants hear back in March of the following year. In comparison, US optometry school applications open at the end of June and applicants are admitted on a rolling basis, meaning you will hear back earlier if you apply earlier. Also, US schools require applicants to complete their applications on the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS), which is a platform with various sections and documents that must be uploaded before being sent out to specific optometry schools. This was a lot to work on, so it was a good idea to start early. For more information on the US requirements, check out our articles: OptomCAS Application Guide, Personal Statement Guide, and Obtaining Reference Letters. I worked on my applications for all optometry programs for a couple of months before submitting them at the end of August.

4️⃣ Fourth Year of Undergrad (Sept 2020 – Apr 2021)

In September 2020, I started my fourth and final year at UBC. Because US optometry schools run on a rolling basis, I also started hearing back at this time. All three of the US schools I applied to extended interview offers and I was able to schedule the interviews within the same week in mid-September. This was a good idea because once you receive an offer of admission, you are only given two weeks to accept the offer and pay a deposit to keep your seat in the class. If you do not pay the deposit, you lose your offer and seat in the class. A good tip for interviews is to try to schedule the interviews close together. Ideally, if you receive multiple offers of admission, you can decide which school to attend and pay the deposit for. This would save you money instead of having your interviews spaced further apart and feeling like you must accept and pay multiple deposits because you’re uncertain about how subsequent interviews will go.

In December 2020, I was offered an interview spot at Waterloo’s Meet and Greet. Because this was still during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Meet and Greet was virtual and I was required to complete the Casper Snapshot exam instead. Afterwards, I did not receive any feedback and all applicants had to wait until the end of March for admission letters to be sent out. For the rest of my fourth year, I continued to finish up courses to fulfill my bachelor’s degree requirements while working and volunteering at the two optometry clinics. At the end of March 2021, I received my admission offer from Waterloo. I accepted the offer and paid the deposit before graduating from UBC in June with a bachelor’s degree in biology!

👉 Conclusion

As you can see, applying to optometry school, or any professional program, is an entire process that involves many steps. Hopefully, sharing some insight into my personal timeline will serve as a helpful reference if you are a student considering pursuing optometry but unsure of where to start. More importantly, remember that we are all on our individual journeys and there is no correct path or formula to becoming an optometrist. Even if you are currently missing some requirements or did not decide on optometry until later in life, it is never too late to start, and I have written many articles to help you out. Feel free to give them a read and good luck on your journey!